I have come quite late in the game to my reading of Jessica Rudd’s debut novel Campaign Ruby. With children now in my life, I regularly find myself catching up with the latest book trends some time after the rest of the literary community: I comfort myself with the fact that as long as I’m reading something that doesn’t tell me how to puree vegetables, it’s all good. What’s more, it can be nice to arrive late at the literary party as I know I don’t have to wait long for the sequel, which itself was released a good six months ago. Another interesting thing about coming late to this party is that the events it curiously foretold have well and truly already come to pass.
Campaign Ruby is part fluffy romance, part travel narrative and part political thriller. 28-year-old Ruby Stanhope is a London-based investment banker, complete with designer wardrobe and Notting Hill apartment, who is fired from her job, bringing about a very Bridget Jones-y professional disaster. Amidst the confusion of life after banking, Ruby takes delivery of a case of Australian wine, promptly gets stuck into it and ends up drunkenly booking a non-refundable ticket to Australia. Ruby is forced to think on her well-heeled feet and, once established with relatives down under, she winds up as a central adviser in a federal political campaign. As the narrative unfolds the unthinkable happens: the Australian prime minister is ousted in a leadership spill by an ambitious female colleague. As if! This would be spooky if written by any author several months before the exact chain of events took place in our nation’s capital; but spookier still that the author was the prime minister’s daughter!
But regardless of Rudd’s close encounter with The Spill, her unique background as an observer of the political machine puts her in an ideal position to provide what might otherwise have been a run-of-the-mill chick-lit romance with a fascinating and original backdrop. So, while many aspects of this novel are predictable and familiar (and rightly so for the genre), the setting is unique and unusually educational. Rudd translates political jargon and the heady world of supporters and spin doctors by using a spoonful of sugar, and it goes down nicely, thank you. Penguin publishing’s website sums up the novel with delightful alliteration saying Campaign Ruby is a combination of “fashion, faux pas, falling for the wrong man and the unexpected fun of federal politics”.
In addition to the classic features of chick-lit writing, the novel uses the ‘fish out of water’ device to great effect: placing a stranger in a strange land provides ample opportunity for cultural critique. I found some of the Australian language and characters to be drawn a little broadly, but usually with humour and affection. This means the book will transfer well internationally and potentially provide the same sort of political education to foreign readerships as it will to domestic ones.
To dwell too much on the politics, though, would be to deny Rudd her credit as a jolly good storyteller in the Sex and the City tradition – though with less sex and more Senate. Ruby Stanhope had me rolling my eyes at her antics and extremely jealous of her wardrobe, much the same way I felt about Carrie Bradshaw. I look forward to reading the sequel, which I know you’ve probably all read, so don’t tell me how it ends!